Probably because there is so much darn water here, the Federal Government in its infinite wisdom has chosen to allow a 4 day “mini-season” for the Blue Winged Teal and wood ducks in September. Most of our hunters limitted out on opening day, and we were able to retrieve a good number of the ducks before the gators got them. Left to right is new Kissimee River Hunt & Fish client Bruce Cohen, guide Dwayne Powell, long time client Michael Berrera and his 11 year old son Jacob, both first timers at duck hunting.
The most effective way to draw the ducks in close is to use a robot duck like the one on the right with static ducks in the water as well. We had flock after flock after flock light into us after circling the pond.
Camoflage and blinds are great tools for duck hunting, but a little bit of cover and some advance scouting go a lot further. Dwayne watched the directions and times of the ducks for weeks, and even brought in a state biologist who said he has rarely seen so many ducks in such a tight concentration.
Dwayne (squatting), trying to decide if he should run over and see if he can scare up a flock that had settled in the grass cover at the far side of the pond. He did.
Michael Berrera reloading his Mossberg while son Jacob scans the pond with his trusty Beretta on their first outing for ducks.
The wetter than usual conditions in Okeechobee this year made it hard to retrieve a lot of the birds, but we got enough for pictures and a couple duck dinners.
Duck hunting is very different depending on where you hunt. In the Northeast, a good day of duck hunting might mean a few shots at a few pairs of Mallards. But down here in Florida, we have several kinds of ducks and the state has created a four day mini-season in September for hunting a small duck called a Teal, which if I researched it correctly, is technically the Blue Winged Teal. The season also includes wood ducks, but we won’t cover them here. Teal travel in flocks, not pairs, and it is not unusual, on a good duck pond, to see dozens in a morning. We went out for the first morning of this year’s mini-season, hosted by our guide Dwayne Powell at Kissimee River Hunt & Fish, and we were able to experience birds flying over our heads in the hundreds. The limit is 6 birds, and several of our party limited out in a short time. Even our 11 year old shooter shot several birds, and we are all eager for the next phase of the season November 17-25. If you haven’t duck hunted, especially in Florida, you are missing a good time and a lot of shooting.
You won’t find the duck hunting regulations in the regular hunting regulation booklets for your state generally. They fall under Federal government guidelines and license taxes (you know, like your health care does now). For instance, in Florida, when you are over 65 you no longer need a hunting license, but you do have to pay for the Federal duck license, most commonly referred to as a “duck stamp.” There are also Federal laws on using non-toxic shot for waterfowl, and you have to plug your shotgun to only hold a total of three rounds at a time. There is no real point to covering the merits of these laws. Politics being politics, someone at some time thought that they would make them look good in some way, and the laws are strictly enforced like any other hunting regs. You will find a separate booklet for your state on waterfowl, or migratory bird rules, seasons, and limits at all the places that sell licenses, but it usually comes out after the regular state booklet. The Florida rules are here.
Shotguns are of course the only gun with which to hunt waterfowl, but not all shotguns are made for non-toxic, which generally means steel, shot. Shotgun barrels are thin walled and made of steel. With shot made of steel, even if it is copper plated, you can put wear and tear on your barrel with steel shot that it was not made to handle. This is especially true when using full chokes. Check to see if your gun is rated for steel shot, and make sure you pattern your shotgun before you go out with the actual shot you plan to use. Three inch shells are punishing in a fixed breach shotgun like an over-under, side by side or a pump gun, but you may want to endure the punishment to be able to reach out a little further. In semi-auto gas guns and inertia driven Benellis, three inch shells are much softer and quite manageable. Three and a half inch shells are not for the faint of heart in any shotgun.
Dwayne doesn’t usually shoot when he takes out clients, but for this mini-season hunt we got him to test one of the new Escort shotguns from Hatsan in Turkey for us. We should have a full review out within a couple weeks on the gun, and it worked great. He used WInchester Blind Side, BB size shot, and it proved out what we discovered in pattern tests. With a Modified and even an Improved Cylinder choke, the hex shaped Blind Side pellets spread out much more than regular steel. Apparently one of the weaknesses of steel shot is that it doesn’t deform on its way out of the barrel, so the pellets don’t jumble up as much as lead. This makes them stay very tight, as if they were shot from a full choke, even with an open or cylinder bore choke. The hex shaped pellets in Blind Side are “pre-squished” and start bouncing around at odd angles on their way down the barrel. This makes them spread more once they leave the muzzle, and it makes for a wider pattern.
This is a matter for more testing of course. Theoretically the other non-toxic shots have their own angles for coming up to the performance of lead, but so far the Blind Side has given us the best patterns. If you want to test your own shotgun with a few different types of shot, beware, these boxes of shells cost upwards of $30 each. They now even make the Hevi-Shot brand in smaller, 15 round boxes so as to be easier to swallow. We use four foot wide rolls of HP printer paper to pattern shotguns. These rolls are available on Amazon. All you need to do is put a black dot in the middle and you’ll be able to see exactly where you have a strong pattern at 30 yards, which is generally the confident range for duck hunting, though our shooters dropped many ducks at 40 and a little more.
If you are shooting Teal in Florida, bring a lot of shells unless you are already an experienced duck hunter and you are hunting with experienced duck hunters. We used a number of static decoys and what they call a “robi,” or robot duck to bring the birds right into us. This is a legal decoy in Florida and it uses batteries to continually flap its wings, resembling a bird about to land on the water. When you hunt in this manner, the birds will most likely come over your head. You can shoot up at them, or if you have a little patience, they will generally circle and come right into the robot, and right into range at a much slower speed, straight on. It is a lot of fun hunting with novice hunters and youth hunters, like we did this week, but they do tend to shoot over their heads a lot. Fortunately, in our little honey hole in Okeechobee there were more than enough ducks to scare away a couple hundred and still have more to shoot. A flock of twenty of more came in as Dwayne was out racing the gators to our downed birds. The gators limited out that day too.
There is a ton of gear on the market for duck hunting, but the only one that is really important is a set of waders. Inexpensive waders are generally just as good for the occasional hunter or flyfisherperson as expensive ones, so don’t worry about spend a fortune, but don’t go duck hunting without waders. You will want to retrieve your birds as much as possible, but it Florida, be careful of the gators. They aren’t tourist gators and they will happily eat you as well as your happy little water dog. They swim faster too. As our new friend and Kissimee River Hunt & Fish client Bruce Cohen said this week, “something is going to eat the ducks,” so don’t get yourself in trouble, with or without gators, trying to fetch birds that are just plain out of your reach. We hope to be back soon with a review of that Escort shotgun as well as a full analysis of the merits of the different kinds of non-toxic shot. Until then, happy duck hunting!